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Ellisons Cave - Fantastic Pit (586')

The following trip report was written by Brian Killingbeck, President of the Indiana University Spelunking Club:

I met Brandon in Evansville about 6:40 PM Friday evening. I took the wrong route and the drive took forever, traffic sucks. We loaded up his truck and made it down to Blue Hole campsite by a little after 12 AM our time. Nate and Jamie showed up around 3 AM.

I got up early the next morning and noticed Eric had decided to sleep on the graveled parking lot. I guess he'd almost been run over. There were now many more vehicles there. We hurried to beat the Missouri group in. There was also rumor of a Kentucky group. We ate, geared up, and waited on Jamie to get some film for his camera. Then we began the 1000' ascent up the mountain to Fantastic pit. It was a tiring hike and almost all of us were getting out of breath. Ryan faked us out telling us that a small unremarkable hole was the entrance to Fantastic. It does connect but is rather nasty. We hiked another 200' to the real entrance. This wasn't really a very impressive entrance either.

Eventually, we got our gear on and filed into the cave. We entered a small climbdown into a walking stream passage. The climbdown was dry except for a few drips. Evidentally, it roars after a lot of rain. We followed the stream passage for a few hundred feet and climbed up along the right wall being careful not to slide back into the stream which quickly plummeted down warmup pit (around 100').

Warmup was a nice pit. We descended 20' away from a waterfall into a large room. Behind us there was a large pillar projecting up. From here we traversed across a rock saddle being careful not to slip into the holes on each side. After slidind down those holes you might eventually find yourself 600' deeper according to Ryan. I attached to a rope to climb up the slope on the other side (you would think the rope would reach across the rock bridge). We had to do a 20' nuisance climb which sucked for me because I just used my safety and foot ascender. The lip was a little nasty using this configuration. At the top you followed a breakdown ledge to the right avoiding another deep drop. A little breakdown traverse and we were in the attic. To get to the rigging spot you have to crawl along a small muddy ledge right next to the pit. There was a rope there to clip into.

Before Ryan rigged the ropes he dropped 2 rocks down. The first quickly hit the balcony, bounced off and was silent for quite awhile untill boooooom!!! The next missed the balcony. We could hear it accelerating down the pit. The air rushed by the rock making a louder and louder wizzing noise until after 7-8 seconds it hit the floor and we heard a distant boom.

Ryan began rigging the ropes. He clipped the rope and 2 safties into a bolt on the far side of the pit and leaned out over the 586' drop to clip into a ceiling bolt. It was obviously not an enjoyable task. He lowered the 3 knotted ropes and was the first to descend. It took him forever. We were getting nervous because it took so long. Even Ryan didn't want to cross 2 knots. After quite some time we heard a loud, far off OFF ROPE. Nate had positioned himself closer to the pit and I asked who was going next. Nate said I was (which is what I suspected). This pit scared the hell out of every one of us. I slowly got my stuff together and made my way along the breaksdown ledge to the tie in point. I clipped in my safeties as Ryan had down and put on my ropewalker. I checked and double checked everything and made sure my both of my ascender were ready to cross knots. Finally, I let myself out over the pit, detached my ascenders, and unlooped my rack and began the long descent. I'll admit this was pretty scary.

I slowly descended the rope and watched below me for the first knot. I occasionally glanced to the side to reassure myself that there actually were walls to the pit and I wasn't descending into nothingness. As I looked down everything was black all around me. All I could see was the rope. I controled myself fear and slowly found the first knot. I took everything nice and slow. I stopped at the correct spot to lock off my rack and attached my safety and frog foot ascender. I followed the correct procedure, reattached my rack twice because the rope looked like it might tangle on something the first time, and was about to detach my ascender when I noticed something odd and disturbing. Somehow the carabiner on my saftey had clipped in to the top hole in my other ascender. How on earth did that happen? I thought, great this is the kind of stuff that can get you killed. It didn't want to come undone. I slowly worked at it and attached one of the ropewalker ascenders to the rope. Eventually, it came undone and I locked the carabiner. I continued down, and down and down still glancing at the walls occasionally. I could see a faint light at the bottom and after anothe 250 of rope I began crossing the next knot which was only 100' feet from the floor. I thought, I'm almost there but don't screw up because 100' feet would still kill you. This crossing was less eventful. The rope connecting the safety made it a little difficult to deattach my rack but it wasn't a big problem. I descended the rest of the way and was done. Hell Yeah, I completed the scariest and most dreaded part of the trip. Luckily it wasn't wet. There was a waterfall coming down the whole way. The water would create winde at the bottom of the pit and blow a refreshing mist in your face occasionally.

I was in a 100' diameter room which connected to a large canyon. The whole canyon was open air for around 600'. I found Ryan a little ways down the canyon napping on some breakdown. He showed me the end of the canyon and we came back and waited. Each of us had our own difficulties crossing the knots. It took about 40 minutes per person to descend the pit. We learned a valuable lesson. Crossing 2 knots (350' and 100' above the pit floor) sucks!!! Ryan informed us that we should be proud because very few people have probably done that. We waited a long time for everyone to come down. Poor Eric got to stay at the top. Brandon took a long time on the first knot but finally made it down. Then it was picture time.

Jamie had lugged his camera and we had split up my two flashes and slaves. We took multiflash pictures of the canyon and entrance room. It was fun. I hope they come out. They'll be on the IUSC website as soon as I get them. Ryan got a bit fed up with the doddleing and was the first to begin the climb out. It took him awhile. We had time to chat, eat, and chat some more. Jamie wanted me to carry and set off a flash on my way back up and I was finally convinced.

I went up next. The first 100' were pretty easy. I stowed the flash in my coveralls and took it out occasionally to light up the side wall. The ropewalker worked very well. Knot crossing was pretty easy going up though it was a little fun getting the chest roller reattached. I couldn't really see much as I ascended. I could tell that this was one monstrouse canyon and pit. It was so big and long. Brandon saw a huge boulder the size of a bus precariously wedge between the walls. It may not as been as pretty as Incredible but it was pretty huge and worthy of awe. The climb wasn't cake on a rope walker. It was pretty damn tough. I had to break quite a few times and my heart rate was high the whole way up. I would go about 25 paces and stop for a break and then ascend some more. My legs were tired. I soon saw the balcony. Not sure how I missed it on the way down. I thought, SWEET! only 70 more feet. Finally, I came to the top and slowly got myself off rope with Ryan's help. Don't want to make any mistakes there. It was a little tricky getting offrope on the ledge. A Missouri group had just joined us and were waiting at the top. I do believe I had overexerted myself a little but. Not enough to feel sick though. I made it up in about 30 minutes. Ryan had done the same on a frog. Most of us ascended the pit quicker then we descended. Nate was next using a frog walker. He took about 40 minutes and was as beat as me when he arrived at the top. Jamie and Brandon came up together. It was amusing to listen to them babble on their way up. They took their sweet time (about 50 minutes) and didn't appear out of breath at the top. Jamie enjoyed the climb. Poor Eric had been sitting there the whole time.

Nate and I hawled up the rope as Ryan coiled. We made quick work of it, my arms were tired. It didn't take long to get out of the cave. We sent Jamie and Brandon ahead so they were almost up the warmup pit by the time I got there. I began ropewalking up. It kind of sucked because I hadn't tightened my chest harness enough and nothing was holding the rope down. I wanted my frog. Ropewalkers are only good for huge freefall pits. I think I'll frog everything less then 300'. Nate had attached some webbing to the rig because he didn't like one of the bolts. Ryan gave him a hard time about this. Finally we were all out of the warmup pit and made our way back to the stream passage. It was easy from here on out. I quickly followed Ryan to the entrance making good time in the stream. We climbed out the hole and waited for everyone to reassemble. Then we descended 1000' down the mountain at a good pace. Some bird flew right in front of Ryan trying to scare him. Even though we were going down it still seemed like a bit of a hike (but compared to Sunday it was cake).

Finally we saw blue hole and got changed. Jamie and Nate had this crazy idea that they wanted to swim in blue hole. Ryan had already joined them. I walked over and found that the cool thing to do was to skinny dip and totally submerge yourself in the 50 degree cave water. Peer pressure quickly got the better of me and I lunged into the water, submerged, and came up with flinging my head back and forth. It was refreshing! My body was still warmed up from the hike and it didn't seem that cold. I would have gotten back in if I hadn't already toweled off. We got our gear together and drove back to New Scottsburg (I think thats right) for dinner at the Huddle House. It was so good. Then we drove up the mountain to the cavers camp and crashed soon to be woke up by Ryan.

It was a great trip but I think I like the Incredible side more. Incredible is a prettier pit. Fantanstic lacked the cool echo. Dropping Fantastic didn't seem as big of a deal after doing Incredible on our own. Anyway, we just dropped the deepest freefall pit in the US crossing 2 knots!!!

Pictures from this trip

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